Category: King County

City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda Will Run for King County Council

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who’s in the middle of her second four-year term, will run for the King County Council seat longtime County Councilmember Joe McDermott is leaving at the end of the year. (PubliCola first reported that Mosqueda might run for this position on Monday). In an interview, Mosqueda said she was “pulled” by the appeal of serving on the county council rather than “pushed” out of her current job by the factors—public hostility, divisiveness, and personal attacks—that have contributed to several colleagues’ decisions not to run for reelection.

“Throughout my career, but especially on council, it is evident that I can rise above the fray, that I can pull people together who have diverse perspectives, and we can pull solutions together and pass them with near unanimous or near-unanimous support,” Mosqueda, a former labor lobbyist in Olympia, said.

As an example, she pointed to the JumpStart payroll tax, which succeeded where previous “Tax Amazon” efforts by her council colleague Kshama Sawant had failed, thanks in large part to Mosqueda’s efforts to win at least tacit consensus from groups that opposed previous efforts to raise taxes on large businesses.

“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”

Similarly, Mosqueda said, she would have handled the siting of a controversial homeless shelter expansion in SoDo—which King County abandoned under pressure from advocates in the Chinatown-International District who said the county never consulted them—differently.

“Folks who were concerned about the siting [of the shelter] there are also interested in solutions— they’re concerned about people not having a place to use the bathroom or sleeping outside business establishments,” Mosqueda said. “We have shared interests… but we have to start with talking to the community first—especially in the CID and the [Asian and Pacific Islander] population who have also been on the receiving end of other services over the years.”

If voters pass a ballot measure to build six behavioral health crisis centers around the county in April, the council will play a role in deciding where those are located, a decision Mosqueda said “has to start with community conversations” about “where those six sites are going to be.”

In addition, Mosqueda said, she wants to support efforts to build “workforce housing” in places like Vashon Island (one of several parts of the district outside Seattle), improving participation in apprenticeship programs and broadening their scope, and bolstering the infrastructure that supports high-paying jobs—everything from funding to “create a career pathway for child care workers” to restructuring King County Metro’s bus system to better serve people who work outside standard office hours.

“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”

If Mosqueda wins, she will be the first Latinx person to ever serve on the King County Council, and one of only four council members of color in county history—one of whom, Girmay Zahilay, represents what has historically been the council’s only majority-minority district.

Mosqueda wouldn’t take the bait on a question about whether she, like the four council members who have announced they’re leaving this year, is actually fleeing the council, rather than being “pulled” toward the county. After all, I noted, if the county council was more compelling than the city council, she could have run for that position in the first place.

Instead, she chalked up the city council exodus to the fact that seven of the nine council seats are all on the ballot at once—a recipe, she said, for instability. If elections were split more evenly—with half the district seats and one citywide seat on the ballot every two years—”then you wouldn’t see that kind of instability,” Mosqueda said. That’s something she said she plans to work on this year, whether she wins or not.

Since the Durkan administration, Mosqueda has over multiple city budget cycles to prevent the mayor from raiding proceeds from the JumpStart tax to fill a general budget hole. Without her vigilance, will JumpStart—which is supposed to fund housing, small businesses, and equitable development—become a slush fund for other priorities or a permanent emergency reserve to fill funding gaps?

Mosqueda said she was confident that it wouldn’t, citing “structural requirements” the council has codified as well as future revenues, to be identified by a new progressive revenue tax force, that will address long-term budget gaps. Even so, Mosqueda had to negotiate a deal this year that allowed some JumpStart revenues to help backfill a massive general-fund shortfall—and even with new progressive revenue on the table, there’s no guarantee that the mayor, or a future mayor, won’t try to use JumpStart taxes for purposes outside the scope of its adopted spending plan.

Mosqueda has already rounded up more than c80 endorsements, including that of current Mayor Bruce Harrell, and her decision to run seems to have neutralized some potential opponents, including West Seattle attorney Rob Saka, who was reportedly considering a run for the county council seat but now appears likely to run for the West Seattle seat being vacated by Lisa Herbold.

King County Plans to Move Up to 150 Inmates to Address Capacity Issues at Downtown Jail

By Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this year, King County Executive Dow Constantine quietly added $3.5 million to the county’s budget for “potential contracted services to address jail capacity issues”—a reference to understaffing at the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle, which is currently facing a shortage of about 120 officers. Despite offering bonuses of up to $15,000, the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) has found it challenging to hire and retain jail guards, thanks in large part to long shifts and poor working conditions; the more guards leave, the worse the problem becomes.

Last month, DAJD director Allen Nance provided more details about what that $3.5 million would pay for. In a memo to all DAJD staff, Nance explained that the department is “pursuing a contract with the South Correctional Entity (SCORE),” a misdemeanor jail in Des Moines, to house some of the 1,250 or so people currently incarcerated at the downtown Seattle jail. SCORE is a public development authority, a type of government-funded nonprofit, that was established to provide jail services to seven South King County cities. The department plans to start in January by moving about 50 people to the jail about 15 miles south of Seattle, a number that could grow to 150 later on. SCORE, which provides jail services for six south King County cities, has a capacity of 802.

“The partnership with SCORE is being piloted to see if it might ease the workload on our staff and prevent a need to expand booking at the [Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent], given the Department’s limited resources and our current reliance on overtime to cover shifts,” Nance continued. About 260 people are currently incarcerated at the RJC, which is only accepting bookings by appointment. “At the same time, we will continue to explore other strategies to run our two jails more efficiently.”

Noah Haglund, a spokesman for DAJD, said that “if we finalize an agreement with SCORE, we would prioritize people with extended time between court dates or those who are serving jail sentences.” King County’s jails would “continue to house people with greater medical needs and those deemed to pose a higher security risk,” he said.

Most of those housed in the downtown jail face felony charges; about 9 percent have been charged with misdemeanors. Although SCORE is currently a misdemeanor jail, its director, Devon Schrum, said the facility is “constructed and staffed to hold any classification of arrestee, including those accused of felony-level offenses.”

Defense attorneys and the jail guards’ union—odd bedfellows that have increasingly found themselves on the same side of issues related to crowding and understaffing at the jail—oppose the move. “We’re already facing a staffing crisis,” said Dennis Folk, head of the King County Corrections Guild. “Let’s say we’re housing 50 or 100 inmates down there, and now they need to go to the hospital—who’s going to be responsible for taking them? How are they supposed to get to the court if that work falls back on us?”

Haglund said the department has not worked out an agreement with SCORE to transport residents from Des Moines to Seattle; according to a rate sheet provided by Schrum, the jail charges $75 an hour for transportation by an officer.

The union that represents King County Department of Public Defense employees, SEIU 925, has similar concerns. Molly Gilbert, the the president of the SEIU 925 chapter that represents DPD staffers, said SCORE’s location and hours of operation could make it hard for attorneys to meet with clients and for clients to get to the downtown Seattle courthouse for in-person hearings. Bonnie Linville, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services,

In a recent survey of public defenders, many attorneys said moving downtown jail inmates to SCORE would make it more challenging for them to manage their caseloads, because they would have to drive between three jails instead of two; others, however, said SCORE has more reliable video visitation than either King County jail. The union has filed a demand to bargain over the change—the first time the union has ever moved to challenge a management decision through bargaining outside the regular contract negotiation process, Gilbert said.

Schrum says SCORE —unlike the King County system—is fully staffed and has had little trouble recruiting “highly trained” guards and staff. But some who oppose relocating inmates point to previous evidence of poor conditions at the jail, including a highly publicized 2018 case in which a woman experiencing a mental health crisis died in her cell later spending four days consuming huge amounts of water.

In 2016, Disability Rights Washington’s AVID (Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities) Jail Project released a report outlining significant problems with SCORE’s treatment of inmates with mental illness, including excessive use of solitary confinement and lack of access to psychiatric care. The report also outlined steps SCORE had taken to address some of the issues AVID raised; a spokesman for DRW said he could not speak to current conditions in the jail.

Many advocates say relocating 50 (or even 150) people from the downtown jail to SCORE will do little to address deteriorating conditions in the jail. For months, people in the jail have limited access to medical care, showers, laundry, and recreation outside their cells.

“There are requirements that people be provided adequate medical and mental health care, be taken to outside medical appointments and be allowed a certain amount of out of cell time per day and it is clear that the jail is not meeting those requirements. Pursuant to the Hammer settlement agreement, the jail is required to meet certain benchmarks regarding each of these issues.”—La Rond Baker, legal director, ACLU of Washington

“We’re hearing routinely from folks that they’re sending [requests for physical or mental health care] that aren’t getting answered, or the answer is, ‘sorry, we’re understaffed,'” said Bonnie Linville, an attorney for Columbia Legal Services, which provides legal aid to low-income clients. “We’re also hearing about fewer transfers and delays in transferring people to Harborview [Medical Center] for necessary care, which is really concerning.” Suicide has become such a problem in the jail that the department has removed bedsheets from all cells. The county’s 2023-2024 budget includes $1 million for “jump protection panels” at the jail.

With conditions inside the jail at a breaking point, advocates say the county may be in violation of an agreement it signed almost 25 years ago called the Hammer settlement. In 1988, the ACLU of Washington represented a man named Calvin Hammer who said he was denied medical care after an assault at the jail left him with a badly fractured skull. Eventually, the ACLU and King County reached a settlement that required the county to increase staffing and improve conditions at the downtown jail. Now, the ACLU believes the county may be in violation of the Hammer settlement, and could challenge the county’s compliance with the agreement.

La Rond Baker, the legal director for the ACLU-WA, declined to get into the details of any potential legal challenge. However, she said, “many of the conditions at the jail show that the jail is out of compliance with the Hammer settlement.” For example, “there are requirements that people be provided adequate medical and mental health care, be taken to outside medical appointments and be allowed a certain amount of out of cell time per day and it is clear that the jail is not meeting those requirements. … Pursuant to the Hammer settlement agreement, the jail is required to meet certain benchmarks regarding each of these issues.”

Continue reading “King County Plans to Move Up to 150 Inmates to Address Capacity Issues at Downtown Jail”

Homelessness Authority Rolls Out 2023 Budget and Five-Year Plan to Shelter and House 62,000

Slide from KCRHA presentation: More than 62,000 people in King County experienced homelessness at least once in 2022.
Source: King County Regional Homelessness Authority Five-Year Plan Presentation

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority released the agency’s 2023 budget this week along with a long-awaited five-year plan that agency director Marc Dones said will put the region on a path toward sheltering, then housing, tens of thousands of people over the next several years. But some elements of the road map remain unclear, including how the authority plans to fund its ambitious plans.

The budget KCHRA presented to its implementation and governing boards this week (and which the governing board approved unanimously on Thursday) adds up to $253 million. Much of that total, however, consists of pass-through funds, such as $28 million for the Housing and Essential Needs assistance program for people with disabilities, one-time federal COVID relief funding, and leftover money from this year’s budget.

The budget also includes more than $49 million in grants from the state to resolve encampments in state-owned highway rights-of-way, plus $1.2 million the Seattle City Council added to its KCRHA budget contribution this year to move encampment outreach from the city’s HOPE team to the homelessness authority.

The primary funding sources for the KCHRA are the city of Seattle and King County, which both declined to fund most of the KCRHA’s big budget requests this year. To add services, the authority has turned to funds that comes with strings attached—like the $49 million state contribution for highway cleanup, or a $5 million donation from downtown businesses for cleaning up encampments downtown.

“There’s really not a lot of discretion in our budget, because we’re funded by Seattle and King County. So how are we going to get to a place where we actually have a revenue stream that we can use in our way that we want to use it that implements that five year plan and that vision?”—KCRHA implementation board member John Chelminiak

This year’s legislative session could offer new revenue sources—this week, Gov. Jay Inslee said he would seek voter approval to spend $4 billion to build or preserve about 10,000 affordable housing units statewide—but the outcome of such a vote is far from certain, and it’s unclear how much of that funding would end up going toward homelessness in King County.

“There’s really not a lot of discretion in our budget, because we’re funded by Seattle and King County,” implementation board member (and former Bellevue councilmember) John Chelminiak said Wednesday. “And they’re basically telling us, as you would expect them to, how to spend the money that they’re allocating to us. So how are we going to get to a place where we actually have a revenue stream that we can use in our way that we want to use it that implements that five year plan and that vision?”

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell raised similar questions at the agency’s governing board meeting the following day. (The implementation board, made up of stakeholders and people with lived experience of homelessness from around the region, is responsible for making decisions that the governing board, which includes elected officials, is supposed to adopt.) The agency’s ambitious five-year plan, Harrell noted, is “going to come with a price tag, and … we’re going to have to have that conversation” about new sources of funding.

The KCRHA plans to release the full details of that plan between now and January, when each board will meet again. A PowerPoint presentation about the plan focused on seven broad goals (among them: “dramatically reducing unsheltered homelessness,” ending homelessness among families, youth, and young adults, and restructuring the homeless service system) but contained few details about how the KCRHA plans to achieve them.

One area of ongoing debate is how much effort the agency should focus on getting people into shelter (“temporary housing”) versus permanent housing. While the Housing Command Center, spearheaded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, is focused on moving people living unsheltered downtown into permanently housing quickly, the KCRHA now estimates that temporary housing will make up about 43 percent of the region’s need over the next five years.

The KCRHA now estimates it will need to find temporary shelter for 23,000 people a year, along with 48,000 permanent housing units, and that the gap between the existing system and the current need amounts to about 19,000 temporary beds and more than 45,000 permanent homes.

At Wednesday’s implementation board meeting, Chelminiak said that unless the authority can show it’s reducing the number of people on the streets, “I don’t think anyone is going to give us any money to spend.” But Sara Rankin, a Seattle University professor and longtime advocate for people experiencing homelessness, said it was more important to offer people meaningful, lasting places to go than “prioritize expediency and the fastest, cheapest ways of moving people out of sight without any long-term sense of what’s going to happen to them.”

The need for both housing and temporary shelter, according to the KCRHA, has grown dramatically. According to the five-year plan presentation‚ 62,000 people in King County were homeless at some point in 2022—a 50 percent increase from an estimated 40,000 who were homeless at some point last year. According to a KCRHA spokeswoman, the 62,000 figure is “the number that the state Department of Commerce is using for the housing modeling that they’re doing for the state and for King County.”

PubliCola has reached out to Commerce for more information and we should have an update Monday.

The KCRHA now estimates it will need to find temporary shelter for 23,000 people a year, along with 48,000 permanent housing units, and that the gap between the existing system and the current need amounts to about 19,000 temporary beds and more than 45,000 permanent homes.

King County Council Approves Body-Worn Cameras, Puts Popular LEAD Program on Notice

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

This post has been updated to include comments from King County Council budget committee chair Joe McDermott.

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Council’s budget committee adopted the county’s two-year budget Thursday, including a controversial amendment that would require King County Sheriff’s deputies to wear body cameras on the job—while providing ample leeway for officers to turn their cameras off and review camera footage before giving a statement in most cases.

The King County Police Officers’ Guild agreed to the $4 million body-worn camera program as part of its latest collective bargaining with the county, adopted this week. While the proposal would finally bring King County in line with the Seattle Police Department, whose officers began wearing body cameras five years ago, it also provides broad leeway for officers to turn off their cameras whenever they perceive an “exigent circumstance” that could justify their decision, or when they’re going into a location where a person might have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” such as someone’s home.

The policy also gives officers unusual latitude to review bodycam footage before providing their version of events in all cases except allegations of “serious force”—opening up the possibility that an officer could use video footage to craft a more consistent or convincing story.

The list and breadth of the exceptions in the policy are dangerously close to swallowing the [body-worn camera] rule.”—King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight director Tamer Abouzeid

On Wednesday, Tamer Abouzeid, director of the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, sent a letter to county county members urging them not to adopt the proposed policy. “The list and breadth of the exceptions in the policy are dangerously close to swallowing the rule,” Abouzeid wrote, citing both the “exigent circumstance” exemption and the proposal to let officers turn off cameras in any location where there’s a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The privacy exemption, Abouzeid argued, could empower officers to “stop recording inside someone’s home, which is often essential to establishing an accurate account of what happened.” 

Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said he would prefer to renegotiate the body camera policy with the sheriff’s union than adopt a policy that didn’t make stakeholders, including community groups, “feel like there’s going to be accountability.”

Councilmember Claudia Balducci said she agreed the policy was far from perfect, but argued that a flawed policy was better than having no body cameras at all. “I don’t think all of this is baked by us moving forward. I think that we can change some of these things together working with the executive and the sheriff’s office,” Balducci said.

“I think the [new] policy is a good policy that we should implement, and by all means evaluate as we move forward,” council budget chair Joe McDermott told PubliCola. “Legislative bodies have an obligation, also, to evaluate and make sure we have the policy implications we intended and we don’t have unintended consequences.”

Zahilay ended up casting the lone vote against the body camera proposal.

The council also agreed to fund five new investigators for OLEO, which had requested funding for 12 new staffers, not all of them investigators.

In an unrelated budget amendment that caught its target by surprise, King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci proposed requiring the Public Defender Association to go through a competitive procurement process next year if it wants to retain county funding for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) diversion program, which is active in Seattle, Burien, and White Center. LEAD provides case management and services to people who are involved in the criminal legal system due to poverty or behavioral health conditions, including people experiencing homelessness. King County provides LEAD with about $5 million a year through its Mental Illness and Drug Dependency program.

Explaining her decision to single out LEAD for special scrutiny, Balducci said, “I think regular re-procurement is a best practice and it is regularly used for county programs exclusively. I think that fundamentally what you get out of this is that there’s a formal process, supported by the council in the budget, that will efficiently communicate between [the Department of Community and Human Services] and the providers about the cost of the programs, ensuring an open and fair process, and will springboard an updated contract that creates a clear basis for continued work in this area.”

Balducci did not immediately return a call seeking more information about her amendment.

But DCHS, which falls under the jurisdiction of King County Executive Dow Constantine, has reportedly clashed with the PDA in the past over how the group runs LEAD, which started in the Belltown neighborhood in 2011. Alluding to this “tension,” Councilmember Rod Dembowski asked why the council would want to start down a path that could lead to the complete defunding of LEAD in 2024—for a body of work that was developed by the PDA and is unique to that organization.

“Are we unhappy with the contract today? What’s going on?” Debowski asked. “This is a very important project. These folks have been instrumental in getting folks help and turning them out of the traditional arrest-prosecute-jail model.”

PDA co-director Lisa Daugaard told PubliCola the organization was unaware of Balducci’s proposal until midway through today’s council meeting, when PubliCola contacted her for comment. “There may be a misunderstanding,” Daugaard said. “LEAD funds go through the project manager [historically and currently, the PDA] to multiple service providers—who were all already selected through a competitive process that the county participated in.” Those service providers, which do the on-the-ground work that makes up the bulk of the LEAD program, are REACH and Community Passageways.

Daugaard also noted that the PDA manages LEAD under the direction of a multi-jurisdictional coordinating group, of which King County is just one member. “The Policy Coordinating Group could decide to conduct a competitive process for the project management function” currently filled by the PDA, Daugaard said. “But King County is not the sole stakeholder in that process, and cannot unilaterally make decisions for this multi-partner initiative. We are reaching out to Councilmembers, and will attempt to sort this out in advance of the 2024 budget process.”

The amendment putting LEAD on notice passed, with only Dembowski and Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles voting “no.” The full council will take up the overall county budget next Tuesday, November 15.

Inmates Say Jail Water Still Coming Out Brown; Morales Opposes Expansion of “Inequitable” Seattle Promise Program

1. Last week, King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced that it had resumed the use of tap water for drinking and cooking “after new tests, like all other tests performed recently, confirmed that tap water in the jail meets EPA and Washington Department of Health drinking water standards.” The jail began distributing bottled water after complaints that the tap water in cells, ordinarily the only water source for drinking, hygiene, and heating packaged foods, was cloudy or brown.

According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, the county’s facilities division “has worked diligently with water quality experts to assess the quality of the water and attempt to determine the cause of any discoloration or turbidity in the water.” (PubliCola reported exclusively on the water shutdown last month). Inmates at the jail lacked tap water for more than a month while the county was doing tests, and two current inmates told us they did not have access to adequate bottled water.

Haglund provided copies of testing results that indicated the water is safe to drink. However, multiple reports from inside the jail continue to indicate that the water is brown and cloudy. According to one defense attorney, a client at the jail reported that running the faucet in his cell “causes it to turn brown/black with visible film on top and particles in it.” The mother of another inmate said her son reported that “the water is still brown” and that guards are no longer handing out water.

Haglund confirmed that the jail is no longer handing out bottled water, and said that after following up on a complaint about water quality, a jail captain “did not observe any discoloration, abnormalities, or any other inconsistencies in the water” in the south wing of the jail. “We will continue to follow up if we receive additional reports about water issues,” Haglund said.

2. As part of the city budget deliberations that are still ongoing, City Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle, has proposed several amendments that would claw back most of $5.7 million in unspent dollars from the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) levy, which funds preschool, college assistance, and other programs. Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed investing this underspend in Seattle Promise, whose scholarships have turned out to disproportionately benefit white students, rather than the preschool programs for which the funding was originally intended.

Morales’ amendments would reduce Harrell’s proposed new spending on Seattle Promise by $1 million in 2023 and $3.7 million in 2024 and require the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning to come up with a new plan to prioritize low-income kids, first-generation immigrants, and students of color for Seattle Promise enrollment. The amendments would not reduce overall funding for the program, and it wouldn’t eliminate funding Harrell’s office has already allocated for Seattle Promise purposes in advance of this year’s budget process.

“White students get more access to more [Seattle Promise] dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

The Seattle Promise program, which provides scholarships (“Tuition”) and financial assistance (“Equity Scholarships”) to Seattle high school students who attend a local college in Seattle. Most of the funding for Seattle Promise goes toward tuition, with a smaller portion paying for grants to help kids of color and low-income kids, who often don’t qualify for scholarships because they receive tuition assistance through state and federal programs, to pay for other college necessities like food and transportation.

The implementation plan for the levy says that if demand for tuition exceeds available funds, “tuition funds will be prioritized for low-income, first-generation” students and students of color. It also says that any levy funds that go unspent at the end of the year, including tuition and scholarship funds, will supplement the preschool programs that make up the bulk of FEPP levy spending. However, this language has never been adopted into law, which is why Harrell was able to propose rolling $5.7 million in unspent Seattle Promise dollars back into the tuition side of the program, rather than spending it on preschool.

Seattle Promise was explicitly designed to close race-based opportunity gaps that keep kids of color from attending college. In reality, according to Morales, almost half the program’s tuition funding has gone to white students. “The way that it is currently structured is inequitable,” Morales said at a committee meeting late last month. “White students get more access to more dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. … Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”

So Much for That Backlash: Voters Saying “Yes” to Progressive Local Candidates

By Erica C. Barnett

Anyone hoping for a continuation of 2021’s local backlash election, when Seattle voters chose a slate of candidates who promised to crack down on crime and visible homelessness, should have been disappointed by Tuesday’s early election results, which showed progressive and left-leaning local candidates defeating their more conservative opponents by solid margins.

As of Tuesday night, public defender Pooja Vaddadi was defeating incumbent Seattle Municipal Court judge Adam Eisenberg by a margin of 56 to 43 percent; embattled progressive municipal court Judge Damon Shadid was beating assistant city attorney Nyjat Rose-Akins 69 to 30 percent; and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s chief of staff, Leesa Manion, was defeating Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell 55 to 44 percent.

In fairness, it’s tough to directly compare the results of an odd-year (“off-year”) local election to those of an even-year midterm when progressive voters, in particular, are keyed up and perhaps unusually attuned to electoral politics. (Creeping fascism and the imposition of forced-birth laws tend to inspire a renewed interest in democracy).

And there is a major dropoff between high-profile, ballot-topping national races and those lower down the ballot—people simply vote in the national races and ignore the local ones. For example, in King County, nearly 50,000 people voted in the US Senate race between incumbent Patty Murray and Republican Tiffany Smiley (which Murray, defying some polls, was winning handily) and then chose not to cast a vote for King County Prosecutor—a dropoff of about 10 percent. In Seattle, King County Elections has counted about 218,000 ballots; yet fewer than 130,000 of those voters bothered choosing a candidate in either of the competitive Seattle Municipal Court races.

Still, those voters who did bother to vote in local races behaved differently than last year’s electorate, choosing more progressive candidates, and by larger margins, than many (including me) predicted. Conventional wisdom before the election was that Manion would face a tough challenge, if not outright Election-Night defeat, from Ferrell, a tough-on-crime former prosecutor who had the backing of local police guilds, suburban mayors, and the Seattle Times.

Manion, though no lefty crusader, supports alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, including the Restorative Community Pathways diversion program for young people accused of first-time felonies; Ferrell called RCP a “look-the-other-way program” that lets kids off without consequences and criticized the entire concept of pre-filing diversion.

The municipal court races offer clearer ideological splits, along with margins that are unlikely to close enough to reverse the outcome after more votes are counted.

Vaddadi, who has to bring a public defender’s perspective to the bench, has accused Eisenberg of being excessively punitive toward some defendants and inflexible in his approach to domestic violence cases. Although Eisenberg has touted his work establishing the Domestic Violence Intervention Program for DV offenders who want to change, he belongs to a faction of the court that leans toward conventional, punishment-based approaches to crime, while Vaddadi represents a sharp left turn.

Shadid, meanwhile, faced what initially looked like a daunting challenge from Rose-Akins, whose primary campaign issue was the incumbent’s management of community court—a therapeutic program that enrolls qualifying misdemeanor defendants in services, including health care and case management, instead of jailing them. The city attorney’s office office battled with Shadid earlier this year when he declined to exclude Davison’s list of about 120 “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from community court, and Rose-Akins announced her candidacy shortly after Davison won that battle.

At the state level, Democratic Secretary of State Steve Hobbs was narrowly defeating nonpartisan challenger Julie Anderson in a race that is still too close to call.

One wild card this year is the vote to decide whether Seattle will adopt a new election system; as of Tuesday, Seattle voters were almost evenly split on this question, with slightly more saying we should keep our existing system than those saying we should adopt either ranked-choice voting or approval voting. (The ballot measure splits voting reform into two questions, asking voters whether they support changing the system and, in a separate question, whether they prefer ranked-choice voting or approval voting, regardless of how they voted on the first question.)

Seattle could end up rejecting both potential new systems by voting “no” on the first part of the ballot measure, but even if they do, the results for the second half of the question show overwhelming support for ranked-choice voting—the option supported by most local progressive groups, including all of Seattle’s Democratic legislative districts.

King County will release the next batch of ballots around 4:00 tomorrow afternoon.

PubliCola Questions: King County Prosecuting Attorney Candidate Jim Ferrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a former Republican who embraced a rehabilitative approach to public safety unusual among prosecutors, will retire next year after more than two decades in office. His longtime chief of staff, Leesa Manion, played a critical role in his office, helping to set and implement the policies for which Satterberg was known, including the decision to stop charging people for low-level drug possession and the creation of a number of alternatives to incarceration, including Restorative Community Pathways, which allows young people to avoid charges for first-time felonies by connecting to community-based groups and enrolling in their diversion programs.

Manion’s support for RCP and other Satterberg initiatives has made her a target for a number of tough-on-crime officials, including a group of South King County mayors who issued a statement in August demanding “improved and timely juvenile and adult felony criminal accountability at the County level,” including more prosecutions and a greater reliance on incarceration as a response to “the rising tide of crime and violence in our communities.”

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who’s also running for prosecutor, signed this statement, as well as a letter calling on legislators to adopt harsher penalties for drug use in response to the Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized simple drug possession. Ferrell has made Restorative Community Pathways a centerpiece of his campaign, calling it a “look-the-other-way” program because participants don’t have to face charges as part of their participation in the program. As mayor, Ferrell has used similar language to describe unsheltered people, supporting his city’s ban on encampments in public spaces and accusing people who live in encampments of embracing a “lack-of-accountability lifestyle.”

PubliCola sat down (virtually) with both candidates for King County Prosecutor in September.

PubliCola (ECB): Understaffing is a major issue at the King County Jail: People can’t visit with their families or meet with defense attorneys and incarcerated people are often locked in their cells for 23 hours a day. Do you support any policies that will reduce the jail population, like releasing people who are not being held for violent offenses?

Jim Ferrell (JF): When I was seeking the the endorsement of the King County Corrections guild, I actually got to hear about a lot of these issues that are just really very difficult for them. First of all, they’re about 100 officers down, according to the guild, so they’ve got to get aggressive about filling those positions.

So, to your question, what I would say is, you can’t say “we’re just going to reduce the population of the jail” in a vacuum. What people are concerned about in the region is this sort of revolving door, where people get brought over and over and over for property crimes. So where it makes sense for community safety and where you don’t have a chronic offenders getting booked multiple times, I can see exploring that. But when people get booked for an offense, and then they’re out that later that day, that really erodes the confidence of the community that something’s actually happening.

“[Keeping the youth jail open] isn’t about jailing kids, it’s about making sure that if you committed a violent offense in King County, you’re going to be held accountable. And you can’t eliminate that.”

ECB: You’ve been very critical of Restorative Community Pathways, the county’s pre-filing juvenile diversion program. One of your criticisms is essentially that it’s a pre-filing program, which means that there isn’t a case and it doesn’t go before a judge. Do you oppose pre-filing diversion in general, and would you want to institute a different kind of juvenile diversion program? What’s the evidence that RCP isn’t working?

JF: One of the things I’ve said over and over is, I could fix RCP in a day. You take about five or six crimes off the list and add a judicial component at the beginning.

I don’t think for felonies, certain types of felonies, that you should have a pre-filing diversion. If you bring a gun to school, if you’re in somebody else’s living room in a residential burglary, if you’ve committed a robbery or a felony assault, I don’t think you should be eligible for a pre-filing diversion. And at a minimum, you’ve got to have a judicial piece of this and a check back. I don’t think it’s asking too much to say, did the person show up? Did they do what they were asked to do? And that has been consistently my concern with RCP.

And it just needs to be recalibrated. I’m not against diversions—clearly, the idea is to get people get young people back on track. But when you’re talking about felons, and these felonies that I just rattled off the top of my head are not nonviolent, you’ve got very serious crimes that are part of this. They’re just not appropriate. So that’s my position.

And this was launched with zero notice to the communities. These are cases coming out of our cities. No notice of this huge change. There is no case number, no judge, no plan, no check back. We don’t have any idea of what happens [with these cases]. This isn’t a diversion program. This is a look-the-other-way program, literally.

My concern about RCP is, ultimately if you try to sort of coax young people in the right direction, you could be creating a different type of offender. I always say comfort is the enemy of change. And if somebody has made that mistake, you don’t want to extinguish someone’s hopes or dreams, and you also want to make sure that they’re not unemployable moving forward. But you also need to make sure that you have created some just some level of discomfort, so they won’t do it again, or at least are incentivized not to.

ECB: King County Executive Dow Constantine has set the goal of closing down the juvenile jail by 2025. Do you think the goal of zero youth detention is realistic?

JF: That policy is not tethered to reality. It just isn’t. What do you do with a juvenile who pulls a trigger and shoots somebody? What do you do with the juveniles that are committing violent offenses? Where are they going to go? I mean, in fact, actually, we had the two juveniles that committed a robbery here at a pawn store, in Federal Way this year. They got electronic home detention after they held everybody in this pawn store captive for a while. And then they go out and kill somebody in Pierce County.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of the juvenile population that commits violent gun-related crimes, and you need a place to hold these individuals to protect the public, victims, and even themselves before they commit offenses that they just are never going to be able to take back. So this isn’t about jailing kids, it’s about making sure that if you committed a violent offense in King County, you’re going to be held accountable. And you can’t eliminate that.

And they just need to get serious about hiring people. And it is hard. You’ve got to incentivize and you’ve got to just get the job done. And that needs to happen. But it’s not all about locking people up. I mean, I’ve got a 15-year-old son, I would never want him locked up, ever. And I think, really, we’re talking about where you find an offender, or a juvenile, or even an adult criminal defendant on the spectrum of seriousness of the offense, priors, and danger to the community.

“Sometimes, with people that are in crisis and decompensating, you can get them back on a regimen of the medication that they need. It just depends on where you find people, where they’re at in the process, and what kind of support they had with family and friends.”

ECB: The King County Jail is not known as being a particularly therapeutic place. And a lot of people are currently in a cycle where they’re in jail for a couple days and released, only to get arrested again and repeat the cycle. Do you support keeping people in jail for short periods of time on minor offenses, even if it means they might lose their job, health care, or housing?

JF: Well, they used to say that the seventh floor of the King County Jail was the second largest mental health ward in all of Western Washington. And it’s certainly not a way to treat mental illness. Oftentimes, at the end of the month, when people would run out of their medication, whether they’re bipolar or have some sort of co-occurring mental health issue, they would essentially decompensate and end up in custody. And you don’t make these decisions in a vacuum—it’s individualized in regard to the decision to hold somebody or not hold somebody. But sometimes, with people that are in crisis and decompensating, you can get them back on a regimen of the medication that they need. It just depends on where you find people, where they’re at in the process, and what kind of support they had with family and friends.

ECB: What about situations where people are held in jail for no other reason than that they can’t afford bail?

JF: My last assignment at the prosecutor’s office was in CTI, the car theft initiative. And some of these guys would go from stolen car to stolen car to stolen car, and dump it in a parking lot, and then grab the one right one to it. So those high-impact offenders do constitute a lot of the caseload. And they do have impact. I mean, if my car gets stolen, I couldn’t have this meeting with you right now. I couldn’t get to work, I couldn’t take my son to school. It has a huge impact on people.

I think that somehow or another, we got this idea that property crimes, nonviolent offenses, we’re going to allow that. But if you’re committing a felony crime, you’re going to be impacting other people. And when I talk to people, they really feel like the systematic response has been inadequate, because the community is getting victimized repeatedly. There should be some punishment for that—reasonable punishment based on a person’s prior record, but there should be some punishment.

ECB: Seattle Municipal Court recently agreed to restrict so-called high utilizers from accessing community court. I’m curious what you thought of that decision and if you think the county’s therapeutic courts, like drug court and mental health court, are doing a good job, particularly with people who may not be ready or able to comply with the conditions established by the court.

JF: I think drug court, mental health court, all of those type of courts are really the model for alternative dispositions. And it’s not zero tolerance—they really do want people to succeed. I talk a lot about drug court, because I think drug court is really the model for how to do this. It’s just so difficult for people to get off drugs and alcohol. They mask other issues that are that are also present. So we’ve got to get to the root causes. And you need to give people enough latitude, where if they have some sort of relapse, as long as it’s not flagrant, if they’re still willing to try, you don’t give up on them. But ultimately, what’s critically important about drug and mental health court is there’s a checkbox, there are accountability steps, and you can see whether somebody is going in the right direction or wrong direction.

ECB: You’ve talked about the case backlog at the prosecutor’s office, which has been largely due to cases piling up during COVID and the fact that the courts are still not operating at full capacity. What policies would you propose to get through that backlog more quickly?

JF: The first thing is, if you think of it like a pipeline, you’ve got a capacity issue. And there’s only a certain number of judges. And you’ve got speedy trial concerns. So you’ve got to expand the pipeline. And the way to do that is you got to hire more pro tem [judges].  And the prosecutor’s office has got to come up with a discernible plan. And the homicides and sexual assault cases, those absolutely have to go first. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: King County Prosecuting Attorney Candidate Jim Ferrell”

Under Pressure, County Executive Constantine Cancels Plans to Expand SoDo Shelter

King County Department of Community and Human Services Director Leo Flor with one of the Pallet shelters that would have been part of a shelter expansion in the SoDo neighborhood.

By Erica C. Barnett

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced on Friday that in response to “community feedback,” the county will abandon plans to provide new shelter beds and a sobering center on vacant land next to the existing 270-bed Salvation Army shelter in SoDo. In a statement, Constantine said, “It is clear that building trust and resolving underlying concerns about the conditions in the community today will take considerable time before we can move forward with any added service capacity.”

Residents of the Chinatown International District have held protests outside the shelter and during King County Council meetings objecting to the shelter expansion, which many described during county and city public comment sessions as another example of “dumping” services for homeless people in a neighborhood that was hard-hit by the pandemic and has seen an increase in both crime and gentrification over the past few years.

Tanya Woo, a Chinatown-International District business owner who has helped organize opposition to the shelter expansion, told PublICola before today’s announcement that she wanted the county to put its plans on “pause” and have more conversations with neighborhood residents, including discussions about potential shelter locations in other parts of the city.

It doesn’t matter what side the community is on this shelter issue, the most important thing is having our voices heard,” Woo said. “My one wish is that the county and city can come to a conclusion that may include looking at other sites and looking at a more equitable distribution of shelter resources so that it’s not all concentrated in one area.”

In addition to community members, paid outside advocates have involved themselves in the debate, including the King County Republican Party (which paid for and handed out “Down With Dow” signs to tweak the county executive, who has a history of being rattled by vocal criticism) and the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank that launched the career of far-right activist Chris Rufo.

Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, DCHS director Leo Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.

Reporters received tours of the existing shelter, and the areas where the shelter would have been expanded, earlier this month. In total, the expansion would have added 90 new shelter beds: 40 beds at a new high-acuity shelter, focused on bringing people with the greatest health needs (and visible impact on the surrounding neighborhood) off the street, plus 50 new tiny house-style Pallet shelters. In addition, the county would have moved the existing sobering center, currently housed in the Yesler Building in Pioneer Square, to the complex, adding up to 60 non-shelter beds.

The high-acuity shelter has been a longtime priority for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is an independent entity funded jointly by the city of Seattle and King County. A spokeswoman for the KCRHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this latest setback for the shelter.

The director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), Leo Flor, said last month that the new shelter would help get many people off the street who are unable to access traditional shelter like the Salvation Army’s SoDo shelter because of serious physical and behavioral health needs—the kind of needs that often lead to disruptive behavior and neighborhood complaints.

Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.

Constantine’s office did not provide any information about whether the county is planning to revisit any of the new services and shelter that were canceled today. The decision will save the county some money, though it’s unclear how much; a planned lease with the property owner, developer Greg Smith of Urban Visions,  would have rolled the existing lease for the Salvation Army shelter up in a new six-year contract that would have cost King County $10 million a year.

Nor is it clear when the onsite encampment will be resolved. A spokesman for Constantine directed questions about the encampment to the KCRHA; a spokeswoman for the authority told PubliCola that the site is “within the Partnership for Zero focus area” and will be addressed as part of that work and, presumably, closed down once the homelessness authority moves the people living there into housing or shelter.

Fewer Staff, More Incarcerated Kids, and Frequent Solitary Confinement as Youth Jail Closure Deadline Approaches

By Erica C. Barnett

In July 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine committed publicly to closing down the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC), saying it was time to shift “public dollars away from systems that are rooted in oppression and into those that maintain public health and safety.”

“Today I commit King County to converting the remaining youth detention units at the CFJC to other uses as quickly as possible, and no later than 2025,” Constantine announced in a Twitter thread that noted the connection between police murders of Black people and mass incarceration. About half the kids King County incarcerates are Black, a group that makes up about 6 percent of the county population, and about 18 percent are white, compared to 69 percent of the county.

Constantine’s announcement came at a time of heightened public scrutiny of the criminal legal system in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis. The youth detention center had opened just five months earlier, replacing a decrepit, 212-bed facility next door, and stood largely empty because of COVID and a general reduction in youth arrests. The population would hover at about 20 young people throughout the next year, peaking at 26 and dipping to just 17 in August 2021.

One year later, however, the trend has reversed. In August, the average daily population at the youth jail was 41; on October 3, it was 42, including four kids charged as adults. While the population at the jail has grown, the number of guards at the jail has declined; as of September, 22 of 91 juvenile detention officer positions were unfilled, down from about six vacancies in the fall of 2020—a shortfall of 24 percent.

The timeline for closing down the youth detention center could also get a reality check. Closing the jail requires alternatives to incarceration that don’t exist yet, and the process to come up with those alternatives, which will likely include restrictive housing for youth who present a danger to the community, is proceeding slowly.

The increase in the number of young people incarcerated at the CFJC is exacerbated by a similarly steep decline in the number of people working at the jail. A representative of the Juvenile Detention Guild told PubliCola that juvenile corrections officers are leaving their jobs more than twice as fast as the county can hire replacements. Understaffing has also impacted other positions at the facility, which has at times been short on nurses and other medical staff. The high attrition rate has created a shortage not just of workers but experience—a gap that shows no sign of closing even as the county ramps up financial incentives to get new hires in the door.

Understaffing has contributed to the frequent use of solitary confinement, a practice that persists even though it was officially banned in 2017. Jail officials acknowledge that they use “room confinement” when there aren’t enough staff to let kids into common areas safely, but there is no legal distinction between “room confinement” and other euphemisms for isolating kids in their cells for up to 20 hours a day.

Solitary confinement leads to stress, boredom, and fights, and has contributed to a reported uptick in assaults on guards and other staff. According to the juvenile guards’ union representative, “We hire staff who want to work with youth, but they are leaving [because] it is an unsafe work environment, we have to lock youth in their dorms for extended periods of time, [and we] do not have sufficient staffing to provide services to the youth.”

King County officials are aware that keeping kids in their cells is a problem, but the use of the practice has been escalating. In July, there were 13 days when kids were locked in their cells between 18 and 20 hours a day because of short staffing at the jail. Additionally, an independent monitor’s report released in May found a “significant increase” in the number of times youth were put in “restrictive housing” (solitary confinement) because of a risk of “imminent and significant physical harm to the youth or others,” along with a spike in the length of this form of confinement; in the first quarter of this year, 41 kids were put in restrictive housing for an average of 6 hours per session. 

Nick Straley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, says the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is skirting laws that were passed specifically to prevent the department from doing exactly what it’s doing now. “The King County Council should get involved and pass strict requirements that force DAJD to do the right thing because we know they aren’t” on their own, Straley said.

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—who, like most of the nine county council members, visited the CFJC recently to get a better sense of conditions at the jail—said he was “shocked” to learn recently that the county still effectively allows solitary confinement for youth.

“If we literally don’t have the staffing to monitor people, I understand why that creates a different kind of situation, but it still is alarming, because from an experiential perspective rather than a technical perspective, the youth experience that the same way,” Zahilay said. “All the reasons we don’t want solitary confinement for youth are still true in that scenario, and we have to do everything we can to change those circumstances.”

Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)
Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)

For adolescents, confinement is a particularly harsh punishment, depriving them of not only of chances to interact with other kids and adults but making it harder to schedule visits with attorneys and family members. During visits, kids are separated from their family members by Plexiglas, depriving them of the chance to hug their parents or hold their own children.

“There have been issues with parents not being able to have contact with their kids and only being able to see each other through Plexiglas,”  a COVID-era innovation that prevents direct contact between family members and incarcerated youth, CLS’ Straley says. “The reality is that you’ve got the bare minimum level of humane treatment, and simply not having enough staff isn’t the only reason. They need to have more staff, and/or they need to have fewer kids in jail.”

There’s little consensus about why the county is locking up more kids at a time when youth detention is supposedly on a path to extinction. Jimmy Hung, who leads the juvenile division of the King County Prosecutor’s Office, attributes the reversal to an uptick in violent crime among both young people and adults. “And it’s not isolated to King County; it’s throughout the country,” Hung said. “We are dealing with aftermath of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, and that has also collided with the continuing escalation and increase in just the sheer number of firearms we have in our community.”

Straley believes the “perception out there that crime is running out of hand” is also contributing to harsher sentences from judges. “I think that perception is not accurate, but that’s the perception, and judges are aware of that and they adjust the sentence accordingly,” he said.

A DADJ spokesman, Noah Haglund, said another reason more kids are being detained is that incarcerated youth are being incarcerated longer, particularly the small percentage of kids charged as adults, whose average stay at the CFJC is 284 days; for kids detained on juvenile charges, it’s 17. Both averages have increased over the last five years.

Whatever the reasons, the number of kids at the youth jail is growing, and the number of staff at the jail is not keeping up.

DAJD director Allen Nance, appointed to the position last month after three years as head of the juvenile division, told PubliCola recently that the department “recognize[s]that not only do we need to do a better job recruiting quality folks to work with our young people in custody, but we also have to work diligently to implement strategies to keep the employees that we have today.”

Currently, the department offers hiring bonuses of $7,500 for new hires and $15,000 for lateral hires, as well as $5,000 to any county staffer who recruits a new detention officer for the adult or youth detention center. (Jobs at the adult jail pay slightly better).

However, the county lacks any significant programs to retain jail staffers once they’re hired—a major problem, given how many leave after they experience the challenges of the job; according to the union representative, “many staff will forfeit the money versus staying due to conditions” at the jail, including low morale, lack of support from DAJD leadership, poor schedules, and a lack of transparency about what will happen to CFJC staff if and when the facility closes.

Rod Dembowski, a King County council member who has been skeptical of the 2025 closure date, said during a recent council meeting that one reason the CFJC may be having trouble hiring guards is that the jobs offer no long-term security. “Why would someone come on to this job or stay in this job if it’s going to be gone in two or three years?” Dembowski said. “It’s not a real great career incentive and that may be hampering us.”

Hiring bonuses remain the primary tool the county uses to recruit new guards at both the juvenile and adult jail, which is also facing a crippling staff shortage.  But county rules require newly hired jail staff to pay part of their bonuses back if they stay less than three years, which means that a guard hired today would have to stay at the CFJC until 2025, when the facility is supposed to close, with no guarantee of a new position.

“Our office’s position has always been that zero youth detention is a goal that we should strive for, and it’s aspirational. I don’t believe that we can truly reach zero youth detention before I’m gone, but maybe for my daughter and my grandkids we can see that [happen].”—King County Prosecutor’s Office Juvenile Division Director Jimmy Hung

At the same time, the juvenile detention department currently relies heavily on mandatory overtime, which falls primarily on new hires. Nance, the DAJD director, said “we definitely intend to reduce over-reliance on mandatory overtime, and in fact, incentivize individuals to voluntarily work overtime,” but did not offer specifics when we asked him about the issue in September.

Nance also said the department is “in the process of finalizing” retention incentives for existing staff, “recognizing that those individuals who have already made the commitment to stay at the detention facility through 2025 deserve an opportunity to work in an environment where they are valued, where they where they are well compensated, and where we go above and beyond wherever we possibly can to support their continued employment in the department.”

Nance did not offer more details about the department’s strategy to keep the staff it has.

Nor is it clear whether the youth detention center will actually close in 2025—or ever. Earlier this year, planning for the closure shifted from the DAJD to the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) in recognition of the fact that closing the youth detention center will require standing up community-based alternatives to incarceration, including housing that is more humane than a jail. Continue reading “Fewer Staff, More Incarcerated Kids, and Frequent Solitary Confinement as Youth Jail Closure Deadline Approaches”

New Tax Would Fund Behavioral Crisis Centers; Things to Look for in Harrell’s Budget Proposal

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay speaks at a press conference on a county proposal to raise property taxes to fund walk-in crisis centers
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

1. King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a new property-tax levy to fund five behavioral health crisis centers across King County, along with higher wages for health care workers and the restoration of residential treatment beds that have been lost in recent years. The levy, assessed at 14.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value—about $121 for a median $694,000 house—could be on a countywide ballot in April 2023, if the King County Council approves it this year.

Currently, there are no walk-in crisis centers anywhere in King County, and the wait for a residential treatment bed averaged 44 days as of July, according to the county. Since 2018, the county has lost more than 110 residential treatment beds and is down to 244 beds countywide. “A question that doesn’t get asked enough to the person who says ‘get people into treatment,'” King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said Monday, is “‘get people into treatment where?'”

In a county with 2.3 million residents, Zahilay said, we have one crisis care facility with 46 beds”—the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Crisis Solutions Center in the Central District, which only accepts referrals from police and other first responders. “If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”

The nine-year levy proposal would also create apprenticeship programs and other supports for people entering the behavioral health care field, and would “invest in equitable wages for the workforce at crisis care centers,” according to the announcement, plus mobile or co-located crisis services that would operate until the first crisis clinics were open.

“If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”—King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

It’s unclear how many people would see higher wages under Constantine’s proposal, which his office released only in summary form. Pay for behavioral health care workers is so low that many employees qualify for the same services they sign clients up for, said Kristen Badin, a crisis counselor and representative of SEIU 1199NW.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has asked the city and county to provide an additional $15.4 million to permanently service providers’ baseline budgets by 13 percent in order to increase provider wages—part of an overall budget request that would add about $90 million to the regional agency’s budget, which is funded by the city of Seattle and King County through their annual budget process.

That process kicks off for both the city and county tomorrow, when Harrell and Constantine announce their 2023 budget proposals. On Monday, Constantine said he considered the KCRHA’s budget request “aspirational,” and confirmed that he does not plan to provide all the money the authority’s CEO, Marc Dones, requested.

That budget request, Constantine said, “was essentially a statement of need, and that neither the county nor the city’s budget could support that full request.” Harrell added that “we weren’t able to meet all of the requests, but you’ll see [during Tuesday’s budget announcement] the support we have moving forward with RHA and the support we have the people on the ground doing this important work.”

2. In 2019, the City Council passed legislation requiring the Human Services Department to build a cost of living increase into all new or renegotiated contracts with service providers, based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). At the time, inflation, as represented by the increase in CPI, was modest—between two and three percent.

“I drew a line in the sand [on the use of the JumpStart tax to backfill the city budget], and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity.”—City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda.

Last year, the CPI-W increased 8.7 percent, meaning that compared to 2021, it cost 8.7 percent more to pay for the same goods and services. Any wage increase that’s lower than the CPI effectively constitutes a pay cut—something social service providers whose wages are funded by the city will likely be watching for tomorrow when Harrell rolls out his budget.

Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said she’ll also be watching for any effort by Harrell to transfer additional funds from the JumpStart payroll tax, which is earmarked for housing, small business support, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development. Earlier this year, Mosqueda proposed using excess payroll tax revenues to help close the budget gap; those extra revenues are projected at $71 million and $84 million in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

“I drew a line in the sand,” Mosqueda said Monday, “and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity. And part of preventing austerity is keeping our promises, [including] our promises to human service providers.”